Camilla Luddington On Tomb Raider, Lara Croft as a Sex Symbol, and Learning to Die

The face and voice of the new Lara Croft shares intimate details about the role. 

Lara Croft has been evolving ever since she got her start in 1996’s classic Tomb Raider, but the beloved adventuress made her most dramatic breakthrough in 2010, when the gorgeous and talented Camilla Luddington (Grey’s Anatomy) took up the role. The stunning English actress provides both the motion capture and voice of the iconic video game femme fatale, and she’s brought an entirely new dimension to Croft by way of personality, looks, and spirit.

Fast forward to 2015, and Rise of the Tomb Raider shows off a rugged side of Croft unlike anything we’ve seen in the franchise before. We caught up with Luddington about becoming Lara, Tomb Raider’s evolution, and just how silly it feels to be acting like she’s freezing all the time.

Lara Croft has changed pretty tremendously from the first game to Rise of the Tomb Raider, and it’s pretty obvious she’s grown as a character. What challenges did you face projecting a stronger Lara who’s better for all she’s gone through during previous installments of the franchise?

Camilla Luddington: You know, I think that one thing that was really helpful for this game is that we got to read the story all the way through. So I was able to really see the arc that Lara goes on for this particular game,  dealing with her past and then her father, and then this obsessive drive that she now has. She’s got tons of questions that she knows were unanswered, coming from Yamatai.So for me, just kind of tracking that character and seeing the vision and the direction everyone wanted to go in really helped me create the character.

Also, Lara has a long journey. I feel like I was on that journey with her when stepping into this game. I understood how dark those experiences were for her, and how that did make her bolder, stronger, and more driven. It was very helpful to start the new game with that baseline of information.

Were you a Tomb Raider fan growing up and did you play the original game after you worked on it?

My older brother was a fan of the original game and he had it, and I was pretty young. So it was one of those things where if he would let me play, I would play. That was my first experience with Lara, and then of course I knew more of her growing up. Then the movies came out, and then the reboot. So it was kind of unbelievable getting to take on such an iconic role that’s been around for so many years.

I think there’s always an element of hoping that the fans really embrace you, and I wanted to portray Lara in my own way that fans could appreciate and also relate to. It was definitely daunting, because she’s so iconic. But I was happy to sort of be able to be part of the reboot where we were taking her in a new direction.

Did you have any input when it came to her dialogue or death scenes, or anything else that would shape her evolution?

With story direction, obviously I don’t have any input, but there are times for me in a scene that if there’s something that doesn’t makes sense to me, I can say so. One of the things I love about having Rhianna [Pratchett] is that it does feel like some sort of collaboration. They will make sure they understand why I am saying something or why I feel a certain way or if it really does feel like it’s not working, we get on the phone with each other and we make sure that it makes sense for where that character journey is going. So story-wise, I have no say in that, but character-wise I do feel like it can be a collaboration. But for the most part, every scene that I get does make sense to me and it makes sense for where she is going. I feel like then I just have to make it my own a bit.

How physically demanding is the motion capture work you have to do? Did you have to train or prepare for it in any way?

It’s the first game that I ever did motion capture for. I remember coming away from it and being surprised how exhausted I was because I have this idea that Lara Croft kicks butt and she sort of does that without breaking a sweat. I didn’t realize how much I would get beaten up game emotionally and physically in this game. So often I said “Okay, I need to make sure that I have my endurance up through the whole filming motion capture days.” I even did some circuit training and SoulCycle, which is really just a spin class, and it just helped me maintain energy throughout the day because it’s just so exhausting.

What do you think are some of the other qualities fans are most attracted to with the new Lara as opposed to the old character?

I think that there’s a demand now for characters to be more relatable and human. I think that she’s a lot more fleshed out in these games. I meet young fans all the time who tell me that she’s inspiring to them because she has moments of despair and she still pushes through it. I think that’s something we can all relate to. That’s something I find inspirational and I think that can also be what is appealing about her.

You have fans that still cling to the old version of Lara Croft. There are people out there who wonder if there’s still any sort of opportunity for her remain a sex symbol. Could you ever see playing that side of her in the future if the games called for it? Would you think that that’s out of character for her now?

I think Lara now is still very sexy. I think that her power and strength is sexy, her confidence is sexy. I would argue that she hasn’t really lost it.

During several of your motion capture scenes you have to look so cold. You’re acting as though you’re frozen. How annoying is that to act out?

You know what’s funny is doing that in a voiceover booth and breathing like that, it actually makes you want to pass out. I could have hyperventilated, so when I’m recording and doing my mental acting where she’s cold and bordering on hypothermia, it takes a while for me to do because I have to have breaks in between. I would love it if the next time we see Lara on an adventure it could be warm, because I never want to be that cold ever again.

It looks extremely taxing, just like so many of the death scenes. Are there any of those that were extremely taxing for you to do that you just didn’t want to do it at the end of the day?

I think this scene with the bear took a long time and there were so many different ways that can turn out. I obviously have to record each outcome. So that was really taxing. I was really hoping that he would just get distracted by something else and leave her alone, and of course he never did. So that was very memorable to me because I felt like I spent hours literally recording that.

Do you think in the future you’d be interested in lending your voice or your likeness to other popular franchises? Would that be something you would be interesting in branching out too or are you tied to Lara now that you’re the iconic face for her now?

I did end up playing Supergirl in Infinite Crisis, but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to playing other characters. I mean, now that I have experienced filming a video game, it’s sort of addictive in itself. The process of it is just so creatively fulfilling that I hope to always continue in games, but I think Lara comes first and foremost, and these games take a lot of time. So between that and Grey’s Anatomy, I don’t know if I even have time for something else right now. But of course I would always be open to it.

What’s your favorite part of filming or doing the dialogue in both of the games? Is there a particular moment that you feel is a defining moment of the series?

I actually really enjoy her moments with Jonah. Any time they’re on scene together or interacting together there is such a love that’s there between them. I really enjoy those moments. Even when he’s telling her he thinks she’s going to go too far and she’s struggling to convince him that she’s doing the right thing, I think it makes for a really interesting dynamic. So the relationship between Lara and Jonah is something I always look forward to filming.

What’s your favorite aspect of the Tomb Raider games, both old and new? If you could pick one thing about all the Tomb Raider games, what would you say you appreciate the most?

I think across the board Lara is always confident. In the last game, I think that she grew into that a little more, but I think she’s always bold. To see a confident and bold woman like that is appealing to me. That’s something that obviously Lara still has. I think in the old games, there’s something I’m nostalgic for, like dinosaurs, but I’d like to see her do some crazy flips at some point. Not me personally doing them, but someone else.

But I feel I relate to this Lara more in the end. I think she’s always been a bold character and a confident woman, and I really appreciate that in a world where sort of it can be outnumbered by male characters.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is available now for Xbox One.